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How I Learned to Love Boys — Including Myself

David stands in front of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. He's wearing a grey hoodie, a red short that says, "Madrid," and a white undershirt. His long oval glasses are slightly askew, and he smiles at the camera. His hair is slightly messy but not too long. He holds a plastic-wrapped miniature version of Michelangelo's David statue up to the camera. David and David. It's cute.
The author at age 16, in Florence, Italy. Photo by Nicole Lim.

LUCY GRINDON, HOST: Now, here's the first in our running commentary series. David Newtown shares his struggle with sexuality and with self-acceptance.

DAVID NEWTOWN: When I was 13, I realized I liked a boy. His name was Tristan. He had big hands and played football for our 8th grade team. I was tall and nerdy and didn’t really like sports. He was kind and liked to give hugs. I never told him I liked receiving them.

I didn’t want to be gay. I remember any time I saw a gay person on a screen, their gayness was a spectacle. At recess, people would throw around “gay” as an insult. Guys would gossip in the way eighth grade guys do, with snark and dripping disdain. I wanted to be liked, and I wanted to hide any part of myself that would jeopardize that.

I wasn’t afraid of being disowned by my parents; they were English professors and we listened to NPR every morning. But my mom would often daydream about the kids I’d have some day. I feared disappointing them, of not fulfilling the future they wanted for me. So I decided I could bottle up my feelings and be the son I thought they wanted.

When I was 16, I realized I liked a boy. His name was John. He was the concertmaster of our orchestra, the goalie for our soccer team. We went on a spring break trip to Italy, and our teacher asked me to room with him and his friends. I had an even-keeled personality, she said. I’d temper them out.

The second night of the trip, people snuck out to the roof of our hotel. The hours turned until just John and I remained. I watched him smoke his cigarettes and we shared the last of a bottle of wine under the stars. He told me the pressures he was under. He told me his fears, his hopes and every one of his dreams. I listened quietly.

A few weeks later, a girl asked me out the day before the big spring fair. Here was the answer to my problem. If I started dating Sara Beth, I didn’t need to worry about John.

The next day, I tried to avoid her, but she found me and slipped her hand in mine. When I could, I stole away and found John. “Do you remember when you told me your fears? When you told me your hopes and dreams?” He nodded.

“I think I like someone, a guy. That guy is you.”

He smiled. “Thank you for telling me. I’m straight, but I have some gay friends. You don’t have to worry; you’re still my friend.”

I went back to Sara Beth and slipped my hand in hers. We didn’t last.

I ran off to college in New York City and took advantage of the distance from everyone who knew me before. I still kept the fact I now dated men a secret from friends and family. I think I didn’t want to destroy whatever perception they had of me in their heads.

Then when I was 19, I met Khrys. We met online and agreed to meet for coffee. We took a walk in Riverside Park, and afternoon slid into evening. When we kissed, I suddenly had a feeling I had never had before. I could imagine being happy. And I realized my happiness was more important than what anyone thought of me.

Now it’s 6 years later, and we’re still together. My parents ask about Khrys whenever I call home.

David Newtown, Columbia Radio News

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